Tigers, Gardenhire finalize 3-year deal

Ex-Twins skipper's experience set him apart from other candidates

October 19th, 2017

DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire tormented the Tigers for years while he managed the Twins through a golden era of success. Yet he and then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland formed a close friendship through the rivalry, built on mutual respect.

"Tampering was one of his favorite things to do," Gardenhire joked Friday, "and he told me, 'When I leave, I want you to manage here."

It took a few years and some twists and turns, but on Friday, Gardenhire put on the Old English D, becoming the 38th manager in the Tigers' history. It's a different team than the one Leyland led to division titles, and different than the one Brad Ausmus inherited four years ago. It's now Gardenhire's job to help build the team back to that level.

"We place an importance on hiring a manager that possesses a great deal of experience, and Ron clearly qualifies for this," Tigers general manager Al Avila said Friday at a news conference. "After managing against us for 14 seasons, it's going to be nice to have him on our side of the dugout and run our clubhouse and run our games."

In the process, Gardenhire will be helping lead the Tigers through their own transition from a club built around veteran stars and free agents to a team based around homegrown talent -- in other words, more like the Twins teams he managed from 2000-14.

"I've been through it," Gardenhire said. "I think that's the greatest part of the game -- being able to teach. Whether it's start over and just add on, the game's a constant change. Everybody changes.

"It's a challenge, and if you don't like challenges, you probably shouldn't be in baseball."

Gardenhire signed a three-year contract -- the same length as the remaining years on Avila's deal. In many ways, it's their challenge together.

Friday's hiring completed a three-week process that Avila said began with a list of 47 names and included 10 interviews. Gardenhire's interview was the last, taking place Tuesday in Detroit. Considering Gardenhire's experience against the Tigers, there wasn't a whole lot of introduction needed.

That experience was a factor Avila had made clear he was seeking when he announced last month that Ausmus -- who managed the Tigers for the previous four seasons -- would not be re-signed.

"I think the questions that were on their list, I think a lot of those pertained to guys who had never really managed," Gardenhire said. "They kind of laughed going through them, because I've been through it."

Said Avila: "Gardy's track record and history of success really stood out from the pack."

Gardenhire was far from the only ex-manager to interview. Former Braves and Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez sat down with Avila and Tigers officials two weeks ago in Lakeland Fla., as did former Marlins manager Mike Redmond. One factor that separated Gardenhire was his track record of finding success with a range of players, young and old, and winning six AL Central titles from 2002-10.

"Ron has a proven track record of success managing and leading both young and veteran players, which we believe is important as we move forward," said Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. "All of us at the Tigers are really looking forward to the passion and the experience he brings to the ballpark each and every day."

Former Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, who blossomed as a hitter under Gardenhire in Minnesota, credited the manager with his maturation.

"Love the guy," Hunter told MLB.com. "He's definitely a man of experience and managed in some meaningful games. He is a good friend of mine and also someone that raised me in the game of baseball. I am truly happy for him."

Beyond the experience, however, was leadership, a factor Avila brought up repeatedly when talking about what the Tigers needed as they began to bring up young players.

"I'm a big believer in a guy that can motivate, a guy that can teach, but also a guy that can discipline," Avila said. "Willie Horton told me, 'Let's get a field general.' Well, that's about as close to a field general as you're going to get, with an open mind to continue to learn the game and the new information that's coming along."

Gardenhire and the Twins parted ways in 2014, after he'd gone 1068-1039 in 13 seasons. He was rumored to be a candidate for the Tigers job a year later with Ausmus' status uncertain once Avila took over for Dave Dombrowski as GM, but Avila announced that September that Ausmus would stay on.

Gardenhire interviewed with the Padres and Nationals for the managerial vacancies two years ago before getting back into the game this spring with the D-backs on manager Torey Lovullo's staff.

Gardenhire, who turns 60 next week, underwent treatment for prostate cancer last offseason, but he returned to the dugout in May. He had a reputation as an old-school manager during his Twins tenure, but his work with the D-backs showed his ability to work with various schools of information and instruction.

"Last year with the Diamondbacks was a special thing for me, they took care of me," said Gardenhire. "I got a little sick, got a little cancer, got well and they stood behind me the whole time, so I appreciate that organization giving me that chance."

As for the rebuilding process, Gardenhire said, "It doesn't bother me at all. I've been there, and I think that's what they were looking for. There aren't going to be too many surprises for me. It's about finding new talent and making players understand how we're going to pay attention to all the details and do all those little things, which I've done my whole career. That's all we've ever done.

"This is a good thing, and it really never bothered me whatsoever. I've had a lot of my buddies going, 'What are you doing? You want to get your brains beat in?' No, I don't want to lose. And who's to say we have to lose next year? Baseball's a great game, and a lot of things can happen. So I'm going to go in there thinking we're going to kick some people's ... I'll say butt."